As Cal Poly senior setter Taylor Nelson prepared for her first-ever match in the NCAA Tournament, she received some first-hand advice from the person who probably knows her best — mom.
In 1984, Vera Nelson, then Vera Pendergast, was a member of one of the last great Cal Poly volleyball teams. That year, the Mustangs went 32-8 en route to a conference title and a first-round bye in the NCAA Tournament. In the second round, Cal Poly drew Fresno State, a team the Mustangs beat in straight sets twice earlier that season. Cal Poly thought it had the win in the bag — they were wrong.
They lost to Fresno State in five sets.
“They supposedly had an easy road in the tournament, but they choked,” Taylor Nelson said, recounting her mom’s story. “My mom just told me that you can’t go into any match expecting to win. Just go out and play hard and enjoy the moment.”
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Taylor Nelson and No. 21-ranked Cal Poly will again be favored in an opening match of the NCAA Tournament, set for 5:30 p.m. Friday in the first round against Denver at Pauley Pavilion on the UCLA campus.
Denver (23-5, 12-2 Summit) is big and fast, Nelson said, and has far more experience in the NCAA Tournament after four straight appearances. The only Cal Poly player with tournament experience is sophomore outside hitter Torrey Van Winden, who went all the way to the Elite Eight as a freshman with UCLA last season.
Cal Poly head coach Sam Crosson, on the other hand, has plenty of tournament experience. He was a coach for tournament teams at Santa Clara and St. Mary’s and was an assistant coach for a Cal team that made the NCAA Finals in 2010 before losing to Penn State.
“We are just trying to approach it as just another road weekend,” Crosson said, adding that the team’s preparation is more about the nuances of the environment, not “Xs and Os.”
Taylor Nelson, who was named the Big West Player of the Year after leading the Mustangs (26-2, 16-0 Big West) to an undefeated conference title, said she will make sure to listen to Crosson’s — and her mom’s — advice with the hopes of extending Cal Poly’s 21-match winning streak.
“I am really excited,” she said. “I have been watching the NCAA Tournament every year and hoping to be one of those teams.”
If Cal Poly beats Denver, it will face the winner between UCLA and Austin Peay on Saturday.
Cal Poly (26-2) vs. Denver (23-5)
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles
ON THE AIR: 1280 AM (5:15 p.m.)